Earlier this week, President Daniel arap Moi, who has led Kenya for 24 years but is obliged to step down at the end of this term, stage-managed the nomination of Uhuru Kenyatta as the Kenyan African National Union (Kanu) candidate in December’s presidential elections. Kanu has ruled Kenya since the country gained independence in 1963, but party leaders were so outraged by Moi’s attempts to handpick his successor that a quarter of the party’s MPs defected. For the first time in 40 years, the opposition has formed a “super-alliance” and will field a single presidential candidate to battle Kanu. Nairobi’s Daily Nation reported that for many of the “die-hard” Kanu defectors, their new association with the National Rainbow Council—a coalition of three existing parties—”was a debut in opposition politics.”
According to the London Times, Kenyatta, the son of Kenyan independence leader Jomo Kenyatta, is a 41-year-old former businessman who was given a seat in parliament just last year; he swiftly took a place in the Cabinet, and in March he was appointed vice chairman of Kanu. The Financial Times reported that the ruling party dissidents had wanted a transparent candidate selection process: “They said Mr Moi chose Mr Kenyatta because he would be able to manipulate him.” The president barred the Kanu hierarchy from standing for the presidency, “thereby sparking an unprecedented rebellion from men tired of waiting in the wings,” according to the Daily Telegraph.
The Telegraph profiled President arap Moi, noting that “a few months ago it would have seemed inconceivable that a man who had struck terror into the hearts of his enemies and his allies alike should suddenly seem like an isolated figure fighting for political survival.” The piece charted arap Moi’s rise from a missionary-educated teacher from a marginalized tribe to Kenyatta’s vice president in 1966, appointed “as a sop to the smaller tribes.” The Telegraph reported that his fellow ministers “would often knock Mr Moi to the ground in President Kenyatta’s presence as a joke.” When Kenyatta died in 1978, “the same ministers did everything they could to stop Mr. Moi succeeding him,” but he evaded them and took the top job. After a quiet start, Moi “ruthlessly put down” an attempted coup in 1982, which led to a cycle of violent repression. His most recent election victories in 1992 and 1997 were tainted by allegations of poll-rigging, and his administrations have been riven by financial scandals.
In Kenya, the Daily Nation reported that Moi had lost his air of invulnerability: “[W]herever the President goes to campaign … these days, he is routinely heckled, something that has never happened before. In some cases, stones are thrown. … When common people, despite the awe the presidency used to inspire, start behaving like this, you can be sure the motivation is deeper than mere disagreement.” Elsewhere, the paper noted that Kanu has been “dangerously weakened and forced on the defensive” by the defections, so that where it “would, ordinarily, have unleashed police violence” on an opposition rally, a huge unity gathering early this week passed peacefully. An op-ed in the East African said, “The view among Kenya watchers … is that Moi is certainly no more the ‘professor’ of the politics of manipulation he has so long been billed as.”
The Nation welcomed the super-alliance: “Instead of wasting lamentable resources in a proliferation of parties, we now seem on the way to only one opposition movement. … [C]learly, it is the only way we can conserve the political energy we have hereto frittered away in aimless multi-party bickering.” A Nation op-ed said the formation of the National Rainbow Council represented “the prospect of our political system evolving into a bi-partisan system. … When only two parties compete for power, they will all be forced to court and integrate diverse ethnic constituencies.”